Errors in Polling and Surveys

The 2016 US presidential election provides a good test case of the accuracy of public opinion polls. Natalie Jackson, polling editor for The Huffington Post, explained:

There are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong in polls. Survey experts generally point to five areas where things can go awry:

  1. sampling: refers to the error produced by interviewing a random sample rather than the entire population whose opinion you are seeking.
  2. coverage: refers to having the ability to sample from the entire population ― for example, a poll done online can only reach people with internet access. A poll that uses only landline telephone numbers can only reach people with a landline.
  3. nonresponse: refers to all the people pollsters try to reach but can’t.
  4. measurement: refers to whether questions asked and answered actually measure what pollsters are trying to get at.
  5. post-survey: refers to anything analysts do with the data after collecting it, including weighting and likely voter selection. 

    These five areas make up the “total survey error” that researchers seek to understand.

The “margin of error” that most (but not all) polls report only addresses the potential for sampling error…Based on the sample size, statistics and a few other factors, the pollster can calculate the margin of sampling error. This describes how close the sample’s results likely come to the results that would have been obtained by interviewing everyone in the population — in theory — within plus or minus a few percentage points.

Debunking Conspiracy Theories

Many people in this Internet age believe “conspiracy theories” — assertions contrary to facts established by eyewitness accounts or authenticated documents.  How can professional communicators persuade people not to believe conspiracy theories? Some of these theories go to the heart of critical thinking, and the need to develop such skills.

  1. What is a good way to refute moon landing doubters?
  2. Why do people believe conspiracy theories?

Best Zajel Stories for September, 2016

ZU is back in session, and despite multiple holidays early in the semester (Eid, Islamic New Year), has published stories routinely in the first few weeks of the semester. Among them:

Video News



First Person:


Many more stories will be coming in October, November, and December, so you should routinely check out

Invasion of Privacy: What Are the Limits?

Can a person’s privacy ever be invaded legitimately?

Courts in the US have generally ruled that privacy can be invaded IF:

  • the disclosure of private facts is “newsworthy,” meaning the public has a legitimate interest in this matter.
  • a celebrity or public person has voluntarily revealed private information about themselves, but then objects when a news organization reveals more information that might contradict their self-serving depictions.
  • For example, suppose a presidential candidate or religious leader portrays himself as a great family man, preening for photos, preaches frequently about the importance of family and expresses harsh judgments about the lifestyles of others who do not meet his high standards. But then a publication reveals how he has betrayed his family and the sorry state of his relationships. Is this not a matter of legitimate public interest?
  • See “Making your personal affairs a matter of public concern.”
  • However, a Florida jury in 2016 ruled that the online publication Gawker egregiously violated the privacy of the wrestler/celebrity Hulk Hogan, awarding him $115 million in damages: $55 million for economic harm and $60 million for emotional distress. Additional money might be awarded for punitive damages against the publication.
  • Debate at New York Times site.

Resources on Entrepreneurial Journalism and Communication

The old business models for journalism, and communication, both print and broadcast, are changing dramatically or perhaps even dying. Educators in communication have to recognize that if they don’t innovate, they may be training students for jobs that will not exist in their students’ professional lives.

That’s why I’m attending the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism’s 2016 Summit on Entrepreneurial Journalism, primarily for educators.

I discovered the online world in the early 1990s and immediately recognized the potential revolutionary impact on societies. Between 1994 and 2009, I sought to be an online entrepreneur, creating a number of email newsletters, websites, online communities and social media groups. I focused on content for families, neighborhoods, candidates, causes and advocacy groups, health care interest groups, travel and history. Some of these projects were artistically successful; several helped organizations meet their goals; some were politically successful, some contributed to positive social change; but none were financially sustainable as independent entities for the long term as I originally dreamed that they would be.

In 2009, I discovered a new calling as an educator, but I still have a strong interest in entrepreneurial journalism, or an interdisciplinary approach to building sustainable online businesses. It would be great to develop this knowledge into a course, because I have a number of students who dream of starting their own businesses. Some of them are actually successfully marketing their start-ups over Instagram. One of the ideas I heard today that could be implemented immediately is to start a club of students interested in entrepreneurship.

I’m gaining a lot of resources and contacts, listed below. I will update this list and develop it further.

The conversation continues in the Entrepreneurial Journalism Facebook Group;;;; and an occasional email newsletter: email to subscribe.

Entrepreneur Facebook Group.

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